People often ask, “Why gardening or personal finance, etc. is not taught at school?” At times the answer is that topic is taught as part of a class. Other times the answer is that either it is a niche subject where the teachers do not have training or that on the student population of that school isn’t interested in that subject as an option. The student’s would prefer to learn something else as an option.
It happened that the students at Lacombe Composite High School wanted to become more sustainable and they had a teacher, Steven Schultz, which was willing to help direct their learning.
What began as solar panels has morphed into sustainable agriculture.
Lacombe Composite High School is the proud owners of a 42 foot geodesic tropical greenhouse that is heated geothermally. Inside the greenhouse stands a large banana plant testifying to the longevity of the program. The fruit from the tree is taken to the school kitchen.
The greenhouse also boosts a three year old tomato plant grown in aquaculture. The fish in the large tank supply the nutrients for the tomato plant which in turn helps clean the tank making it low maintenance. The fish tank have two more uses. The fish, like the bananas and tomatoes make it to the school kitchen and the water in the tank works as a heat sink to help keep the greenhouse warm after the sun goes down.
The complete structure was paid for with donations of time, materials and grants. The initiative to source materials came from the students with of Mr. Schultz as an advisor.
The greenhouse is used as a classroom, with evidence of student’s projects as well as a bedding out plant sale. Money brought in by the sale goes directly back into the project.
A number of the students that are working in the greenhouse are also working towards completing a Green Certificate Program in Greenhouse Production. While most students work outside the school to complete this program, Lacombe students have the chance to complete the program in house.
The Alberta Government set up the Green Certificate Program in the 70’s to encourage more people to go into agricultural endeavors. When there wasn’t enough enrolment at the post-secondary level it was introduced as high school courses. Students usually work off campus for local businesses but finding a position and transportation can be an issue. Students throughout Central Alberta have the opportunity to test at Olds College 3 or 4 times a year.
Another Green Certificate program offered at the school is Bee Keeping. The honey from the hives in sold locally and used to feed the scoby that produces Kombucha that is bottled and sold locally.
While the students supply food to the kitchen, it in turn provides materials to be composted either through vermi-composite or themo composting systems. When the compost is finished it is used in the greenhouse and in raised beds.
Lacombe Comp. has solved one of the hurdles of school gardening which is what to do over the summer months. They have an adopt a garden initiative where the community has access to raised beds with the expectation that they will care for the school beds over the summer.
Produce from their beds and fruit forest are used within the school and shared with the community.
High end restaurants have nothing on this school. They have their own urban cultivator, a computerized system that grows organic herbs. As the school cannot use all that is grown, the herbs are sold locally to a local restaurant, Cilantro and Chive.
Steve is quick to point out that projects are student lead. Students do the planning and he is there to help when needed. With this being said:
May 28, Steven Schultz headed to Ottawa to receive the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Not all schools have the ability or local support to start environmental initiatives but the community in Lacombe has supported this initiative and seen it grow. The groups next project is to raise goats.
Linda Tomlinson is a local horticulturalist. She can be reached at email@example.com